*Note from A Chronic Voice: Jeremy and Joanna are both physiotherapists who have been travelling around the world since 2010, working in all sorts of interesting places! They are committed to staying as healthy as possible while on the road. Today Jeremy shares some basic insight into back pain from a physiotherapist’s perspective, and also useful tips on how to manage it:
Take This One Piece of Advice If You Have Back Pain – Get Back on Track Today!
Back pain is everywhere. You have more chance of experiencing an episode of back pain once in your life than that of being pooped on by a seagull. So, why not bullet-proof yourself against it?
Did you know that over 80% of us will experience back pain at some stage in our lifetime? It is one of the leading reasons people call in sick from work and go to see a doctor or physiotherapist. Luckily, we at Coming Home Strong are physiotherapists, so we can give you a little bit of information about helping yourself out. Right here, right now.
There are many causes for acute and chronic back pain.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Acute back pain can originate from a load of different reasons. It could be from a herniated disc, muscular pain, ligament strain, facet joint abnormality, a pinched nerve, or could also be classed as ‘non-specific’. Just to name a few.
Chronic back pain can include symptoms from spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the shaft where the spinal cord runs through your vertebrae), arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia or even general degenerative changes from old age.
There are plenty of reasons you may experience back pain, so it is important that you are able to find out what is going on.
This Is the Physiotherapist Speaking
Physiotherapists see a lot of people walk through the door with their source of symptoms being caused by one thing in common – poor posture. Maybe your school teacher knew something back in the day when they told you to balance a book on your head and stand up straight.
Poor posture can arise from a lot of different reasons. It could be from when you are standing, sitting, walking, running, studying or even sleeping. Most things we do in life are in front of us, therefore we start to flex forward – just look at the posture you are currently in when reading this article!
When you are out of ‘alignment’ your muscles, ligaments and tendons all have to stretch, which sends signals up your nervous system and tells your brain that they do not like something. Your posture may eventually degenerate your vertebral discs or cause undue wear and tear on your bony surfaces.
Poor posture is a huge root cause of back pain.
So What Can I Do to Prevent Back Pain?
Firstly, and the most important step. Go and see a physiotherapist. Don’t let your pain linger, get on top of it early. The longer you have pain, the longer it takes to get rid of, and the more chance of creating secondary complications which can include (but are not limited to) poor respiratory function, pain down your legs, weak muscles, and even depression.
A physiotherapist will assess what is going on and discount anything malicious – these are called ‘red flags’ which may present from your assessment and warrant further diagnostic testing (e.g. checking for fractures or malignancies).
They will not only treat the symptoms of your back pain, but also find out what is causing it in an attempt to get rid of it forever. After all, there is no point in just treating the symptoms if the underlying culprit is still out there, ready to trigger your pain again.
Is There Anything I Can Do in the Meantime to Help Relieve My Back Pain?
The current Australian Physiotherapy Association guidelines suggest that the one best thing to do when you have back pain is to walk. Simple as that. A lot of people think they should rest on the bed or couch, but this is the worst thing you could be doing.
While you are waiting for your physiotherapy appointment, take up a walking programme. If you are working, get up out of your seat at the office every hour and walk to the water cooler or go for a walk in the park during your lunch break. Simple.
One of the best thing you can do for back pain is to walk.
What Other Exercises Can We Do?
As far as general exercises go, there are plenty! Make sure your core is strong, and no, before you ask, we are not talking about your six pack. We are talking about the deep muscles which help hold your spine upright. Think of it as a walking stick which holds up an elderly person walking down the street. Your core is the strut that the spine needs to hold it upright and adapt to different positions in dynamic gait.
Exercises like prone holds, bridges and anything on a gym ball will all be beneficial – but please see your physiotherapist first for an individualised programme before getting started.
We Love to Travel, What Can We Do to Prevent Back Pain When on the Aeroplane?
Still, the answer is to walk! Get up every now and then and go for a stroll around the cabin. Doing so changes the angles of your spine when you are upright compared to sitting. When you are sitting, your spine is normally in a lordotic (flexed) position and your pelvis is in a large amount of posterior (backwards) tilt. This can put extra stress on the structures around your back. Your spine will love you for it to break up the long time of static sitting. Trust us.
Other easy remedies you can use on an aeroplane are to use a scarf or jacket as a lumbar roll (in the small of your back). This will give it some extension and prevent your spine from rounding. Use the bathroom to do some marching on the spot, try hip extensions (lifting your leg out the back), and some simple calf raises (going onto your tippy toes), will all help to get you moving. Not to mention your circulation will start pumping – lowering your risk of picking up a DVT.
Why stop there? Take these tips to keep things moving while you are enjoying your pain-free holiday too!
Walking also helps to reduce your risk of getting DVTs.
Take Home Message
We’ve told you all about it, so let’s do something about it. What are you waiting for? Go and see your local physiotherapist who will give you a ‘once over’ and diagnose what is going. The next step is to get stuck into your exercises and stretches – just be sure to stick at them until your back pain is gone. It is important to keep maintaining your new posture and strong core well into the future to minimise the recurrence of this pain. Go well!
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only, and shouldn’t be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your doctor first before changing protocols. Thank you once again to Jeremy for taking the time to share his physiotherapist knowledge and thoughts with us!
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For More Insight:
- The lived experience of pain-related fear in people with low back pain (article on Body in Mind): https://goo.gl/TWhPaJ
- Chronic Back Pain? This Heat Treatment Soothes Your Nerves (article on Cleveland Clinic): https://goo.gl/KKAAcB
- How to Cope When You Have Low Back Pain (article on Cleveland Clinic): https://goo.gl/i4dkcG
- Slide show: Back exercises in 15 minutes a day (article on Mayo Clinic): https://goo.gl/ygI05n